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The Empty Arches

ruins of cathedral archesT’lakdo looked up at the massive stone archway, shadows playing with the light pouring through the broken windows, and felt an intense melancholy.

It was his second trip to the planet that its inhabitants had once called Earth, and the place had changed. On his first visit, T’lakdo had found the third planet from the sun a charming, if barbaric place. The dominant species, who called themselves human beings, were intriguing to T’lakdo. He’d been to many inhabited worlds, but found few that were so absorbed by their own mythologies that they had devoted most of their resources to celebrating them.

An archeologist by training, T’lakdo had been able to see that since the species had developed an agricultural society, they had been creating amazing structures. Monuments to their gods. They used whatever technologies they had, and pushed their limits. The structure called Stonehenge was already thousands of years old when he visited Earth the first time. And at that point, the humans had advanced enough to create soaring buildings, also out of stone.

They were called cathedrals, and they were magnificent; he’d never seen anything like them before on any world.

But they came with a terrible cost.

Religion was a concept that T’lakdo’s people struggled to understand, and was the focus of his work. It seemed that it had finally claimed the humans — not directly, though there was much evidence in the historical records that it had killed many of them, but indirectly. And it wasn’t because the species cared more about the mythical afterlife than their current existence. It was much more insidious.

On that first trip, he’d talked with a number of their learned men — priests, they were called — who did not consider the natural world as anything more than a resource to be used. One of their oldest religious documents explained it well. Adam — purportedly the first human being — named all the creatures of creation. He, and by extension, humans, were given dominion over the Earth.
And humans exercised that. First, using crude technology, and then when they created more powerful tools, with the same disregard for the balance of their ecosystem. As they became more advanced, they became more materialistic, but they still didn’t seem to understand they had to make their development sustainable. The underlying attitude remained: they had dominion.

Of course, they’d had a rich planet at their disposal, so perhaps by the time they learned the importance of sustainability, it was too late. Every space-farer learned how critical it was to live within your means, but the lesson had come too late for the humans.

T’lakdo was the only one on the expedition who found it sad. The others, particularly the biology team, were glad the humans were gone. For starters, the biosphere was starting to bounce back from the damage. Millions of species had been lost, but at least they had a record of those from their earlier trip.

He looked at the empty arches that once held delicate pictures of their mythological heroes — stained glass windows the humans had called them — and thought that it was a great loss. Though he had to admit, there was a certain beauty to the way the sun filtered through the ivy that was starting to grow over the archways.

Inspired by:
Earth without humans | Photo by Rogue Soul


  1. Nice. Great article you based it on as well.

  2. Thanks Joe — yeah, the New Scientist piece is the cover story and worth the price of the magazine this week!

  3. […] Mark A. Rayner wrote a piece of fiction based on a New Scientist article, about a world without humans. Science fiction, but in the most literal way – it’s more philosophy than Star Trek. In his story, an alien visits Earth after all humans left. He (it?) is some sort of researcher on his home planet, and concludes that Earth became unlivable because of religion. […]

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